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A high school senior’s final project might become a law to help combat voter disenfranchisement in D.C.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans yesterday introduced the D.C. Voting Rights Notification Act of 2016, which would require the District to give oral and written notification to returning citizens of their renewed right to vote.
Evans was inspired to draft and introduce the bill by School Without Walls senior Nicholas Stauffer-Mason, who emailed draft language of the bill to Evans’ office in March. Stauffer-Mason wrote the bill as part of his senior project on voter disenfranchisement in the U.S.
Stauffer-Mason had been interested in “the confluence between law and politics,” he says, and found that D.C. has fairly liberal voting-eligibility laws but that voter disenfranchisement is still an issue.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” says Stauffer-Mason.
D.C. and 38 states do not allow incarcerated individuals to vote, but once convicted felons complete their sentences, their right is reinstated. In other states, people who have been convicted of a felony may permanently lose their right to vote or have to apply for voting rights.
The problem, as The National Conference of State Legislatures writes, is “ex-offenders sometimes are not aware that they regain their voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence. They go through life believing they cannot vote when, in fact, they can.”
The bill Stauffer-Mason inspired would require all individuals to receive written and verbal notification of their right to vote as part of release proceedings. It would also require the District to retroactively notify returning citizens via written notification to an address on file.
“Nicholas did great research on this topic and made me aware of this issue. He even provided my office with draft language for this bill,” Evans says in a statement sent to City Paper.
Stauffer-Mason finished a 15-page paper on the topic in fall 2015, and had to come up with a second component for his spring semester. He emailed the bill to every member of the D.C. Council on March 11, and heard back from Councilmember David Grosso’s office a week later, asking to set up a meeting. Then, two weeks ago, Evan’s office reached out and said they were interested in introducing a bill on the topic.
“I didn’t know I could write laws,” says Stauffer-Mason, who’s interested in a career in politics. “I’ve never done that before.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
This story has been updated to clarify that ex-felons in certain states who lose their voting rights can regain them through an application process.